Germany Military Records

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Online Resources[edit | edit source]

Military Records in Germany[edit | edit source]

Military records identify individuals who served in the military or who were eligible to serve. Germany had a large army and a small navy. Since most German states had conscription laws, most young men were required to register for military service. A young man who had not yet served had to get special permission before he could emigrate.

Evidence that an ancestor actually served in the military can sometimes be found in family records, biographies, censuses, photographs, emigration papers, medals, probate records, civil registration records, and church records.

The crucial information needed to find military records is the soldier's regiment or the sailor's ship.

German church records usually indicate social standing. This included active military service. These records usually indicated the regiment in which the man was serving. Search the sources cited above to find your ancestor's regiment, ship, or commanding officer. Commanding officers can be identified with their units relatively easily. Photographs sometimes show insignia that identify a regiment or ship.

Historical Background[edit | edit source]

Söldnerheere (armies) of the 16th century were primarily hired by warring nations through contracts (Kapitulationen). The colonels of such armies administered to their troops and appointed officers as they saw fit. Since the Swedish-Polish War of 1655-1660 the Kurfürst of Brandenburg attempted to establish a permanent army. He introduced concepts, directives and commissions to have influence over his troops and made sure he himself appointed the officers.

The Kantonsystem was established. Since 1690 this system supplied necessary troops. Each regiment was given a levying district (Aushebungsbezirk) which was called a Kanton. This measure became necessary because recruiting under the old system became more difficult. The new system was more reliable since only Prussian nationals were recruited. This method also allowed fast mobilization in case of war. Since 1726 the male population, mainly consisting of serfs, was enrolled in lists kept by the parish priests.

From 1733 the borders of the cantons became permanent. 5000 houses were assigned to service in infantry regiments and 1,800 to the cavalry. Recruitment outside the borders was now prohibited. Service time stretched over 20 years.

Not all males were recruited; exceptions were members of the nobility, officials, academics, priests and students as well as wealthy citizens and landowners. Cities like Berlin, Breslau and Königsberg were not part of cantons and neither was the Province of Cleve. From 1763 on the levying occurred through civil offices, such as the Land- and Steuerräte.

Until 1918 there was no Reichsheer (army) but the Royal Prussian Army with which most states joined forces. Before, the Brandenburg-Prussian army existed and the states of Bavaria, Saxony and Württemberg had their own armies.

Reforms[edit | edit source]

When Prussia was defeated in 1806/07 (Battle of Jena and Auerstedt against the French) the military reformers wanted "Wehrpflicht" for all. Since 1813 practically each male Prussian citizen was liable for military service until he turned 50 years old. There was not more allowance for service replacements tolerated as it was customary in French and Rheinbund conscription laws.

20-23 year old males now had to be on active duty for 3 years in times of peace. In times of war all males up to 50 years of age were called to active duty. In 1813/15 approx. 3% of Prussian males were enlisted.

Laws about military duty were legal by 1814/15. Each Prussian province had a general comissioner (Generalkommissar), who was in contact with the Amt (Kreisausschuss or Landwehrausschuss) regulating the levying of the male population.  The Kreisausschuss consisted of an officer, the Landrath and the manor lord (Gutsbesitzer). They conducted yearly inspections of the recruits and determined their fitness for service. Accordingly men were assigned to the infantery, cavallery or service at the garrison. After the inspection, the men were sent home. When they received their draft papers, they were shipped to their regiments.

Source: Klöffler, Martin. Materialien zu den Aushebungen der preussischen Landwehr 1813-15

Friedrich Wilhelm I of Brandenburg ordered Ranglisten to be established and which were first published on a monthly basis, then quarterly, then yearly and lastly in 1911. The information of such lists is sparse as far as genealogical evidence is concerned. The recorded facts of the officers have to do with their regiments, hire, release, service and advancement, rather than birth place, names of parents and wife and children. Although from time to time, such information is being revealed but not consistently. Starting in 1858 we do find birth year and -place in Ranglisten as a relevant fact. Since 1874 each officer was listed with all vital dates in a separate file.

In early days regiments had to report directly to the king. Any petition had to be brought to the king's attention, even if an officer was to marry. In so called Minuten the king responded to the requests. Such minutes existed since 1728 and since 1786 minutes have almost completely survived. They cover the years 1786 to 1811. At year's end Conduitenlisten were sent to the king and reports given about every officer's qualifications. Such lists were kept until WWI from 1850 on, however, Conduitenlisten have come down to us in fragmentary form.

The common soldiers of the Brandenburg Prussian army have not been as well documented. Most records on them (1660-1822) consisting of Quartalrollen were lost. There are still Maß- und Stammrollen, however, such should not be viewed as primary sources. They came to an end with the war of 1806/07. In the year 1810 indexes were created of non commissioned officers and their soldiers. These indexes exist for the years 1810-1822 with gaps.

Source: Rohr, Wilhelm. "Die militärischen Bestände des Preußischen Geheimen Staatsarchivs und ihre Bedeutung für die Personen- und Familienforschung". Leipzig: Zentralstelle für Deutsche Personen- und Familiengeschichte. 1927.

This article is available through FamilySearch Catalog, International film number 1045463.

Types of Military Records[edit | edit source]

The earliest German military records, which began around 1485, usually list only the names of the soldiers.

Records from the mid-1800s often give information about promotions, places served, pensions, conduct, and other details concerning the soldier's military career. In addition, these records may include the soldier's age, birthplace, residence, occupation, and physical description as well as the names of family members.

However, many German military records provide very few details about individuals other than those who served as officers.

Military records include the following:

  • Military church records [Kirchenbücher]. These records include garrison [Garnisons-] records, parish registers, and regimental [Regiments-] church records. They date from 1672.
  • Personnel files [Stammrollen] of common soldiers and noncommissioned officers
  • Published officer files [Offizier-Stammlisten]
  • Published cadets' files (Kadettenlisten, Rezeptionsakten)
  • Collection Arnim (details of officers' personal and family history
  • Officer rolls [Ranglisten]
  • Regimental histories [Regimentsgeschichten] Foreign Military Service
  • Pensions for surviving widows (Offizierswitwenkasse)

Service in Other Countries[edit | edit source]

Germans frequently served with the armies of foreign countries.

Denmark[edit | edit source]

Before 1772 the Danish army was made up mostly of German soldiers and officers. After 1772 the army began to recruit more Danes, and by 1803, the army was entirely Danish. If your German relative served in the Danish military before 1803, you may be able to find valuable genealogical information in Denmark Military Records.

American Revolution - Hessian Troops[edit | edit source]

Germans served on both sides of the American Revolution. To find information about Germans who fought for the Americans, see United States Military Records.

About 25,000 mercenary troops raised in Germany worked for the British. They may have come from any part of Germany, but they are usually called “Hessians.” Some deserted or were sold to Americans as laborers.

Many remained in the United States or went to Canada after the war. The following source is a major index of German mercenaries:

Hessische Truppen im amerikanischen Unabhängigkeitskrieg (HETRINA) (Hessian Troops in the American Revolution). Six Volumes. Marburg, Germany: Archivschule, 1971-1976, 1987-. (FHL book 943 M2mg; films 1,320,516 items 6-7 and1,320,542 items 5-6.) Indexes from this series list each soldier's name, year of birth, place of origin, rank, and military unit and the source of the information.

The following source indexes thousands of American and British records of German mercenaries:

Smith, Clifford Neal. Cumulative Surname Index and Soundex to Monographs 1 through 12 of the German-American Genealogical Research Series. McNeal, Arizona, USA: Westland Publishing, 1983.(FHL book 973 W2smn no. 13.) This index lists only the soldier's surname and the series number of the monograph where information about that soldier can be found. Each monograph is individually indexed. The monograph normally lists the soldier's name, rank, and unit. Some of the following may also be listed: birthplace; age; occupation; promotions; where the soldier resided or was recruited; and whether he was wounded, killed, missing in action, captured, deserted, or sold, and where.

Additional Sources



American Civil War[edit | edit source]

About one in ten Union soldiers was born in Germany. Over 200,000 German immigrants to the United States were recruited by the Union, many as they stepped off the boat. Some were drafted. Some Germans served in the Confederate military. To find information about Germans who fought in the Civil War, see United States Military Records.

Locating Military Records[edit | edit source]

German military records can be of great genealogical value, but getting access to them is often a problem.

For example, it is very hard to get information from military records through correspondence. Also, the Family History Library has microfilmed only a few German military records. Those that have been microfilmed are hard to read, incomplete for several years, poorly arranged, and not indexed.

If you write to archives for information from military records, you must indicate the regiment or company to which your ancestor belonged. Also include the garrison town or commanding officer's name and your ancestor's rank if you know that information.

Locating the Garrison Town[edit | edit source]

The online Ortsfamilienbuch Armee-Chefs Brandenburg 1626-1807 includes a map showing garrison towns of the Bandenburg-Prussian army.

Some books help identify where regiments from Preußen were stationed. Although the records they describe were burned in World War II, the garrison towns listed are locations to look for in other records:

Lyncker, Alexander von. Die altpreußische Armee1714-1806 und ihre Militärkirchenbücher (Old Prussian army and its military parish records, 1714-1806). Berlin, Germany: Verlag für Standesamtswesen, 1937. (FHL book 943 M2lv.1; film 477,806.)

——. Die preußische Armee 1807-1867 und ihresippenkundlichen Quellen (Old Prussian army and its genealogical sources, 1807-1867). Berlin, Germany: Verlag für Standesamtswesen, 1939. (FHL book 943 M2l v. 2; film 477,807.)

Voß v., Wilhelm. Die Regimentsnamen der altpreußischen Armee. This book is available online through at Link

Meyers Orts- und Verkehrslexikon has as a supplement listed all garrison towns of Germany. These towns can also be viewed on a map in the same lexicon.

Records at German State Archives[edit | edit source]

There is no central archive for German military records. German states each had their own system of keeping military records before 1867. These records are now stored in several German state archives. The following pamphlet lists the archives where existing military records for each state are found:

Reschke, Horst A. German Military Records as Genealogical Sources. Salt Lake City, Utah, USA: Reschke, 1990. (FHL book 943 M2r; fiche6,001,596.)

In 1867 the armies of all but three German states were integrated into the armies of Preußen. From that time, soldiers of any German state (except Bayern, Sachsen, or Württemberg) were recorded only in the military records of Preußen. Unfortunately, the Preußen military records were almost completely destroyed in 1945.

Records at the Family History Library[edit | edit source]

Only a few German military records are available at the Family History Library. They are mostly military parish registers, a few published officer rolls [Stammlisten and Ranglisten], and regimental histories. German military church records are usually listed in the FamilySearch Catalog with other church records.

For other German military records, see the Place Search of the catalog under:


Military History and Records by War[edit | edit source]

General[edit | edit source]

Germans were involved in the following military actions, among others:

Thirty Years War, 1618 to 1648[edit | edit source]

  • 1618: Thirty Years' War. Protestant and Catholic. In 1648, Sweden, Denmark, and France all seized German territory. Parts of Germany were decimated.

War of the Palatine Succession, 1688 to 1697[edit | edit source]

  • 1688-1697: Palatine Wars of Succession – destroyed mainly Southwestern Germany.

War of Austrian Succession, 1740 to 1748[edit | edit source]

  • 1740: War of Austrian Succession. Prussia invaded. In 1748, Austria conceded Silesia (Schlesien) to Prussia

Seven Years War, 1756 to 1763[edit | edit source]

  • 1756: Seven Years War. 1763 Prussia kept Silesia.

American Revolution, 1775 to 1783[edit | edit source]

  • 1775-1783: American Revolution. Several German states led by Hessen, provided troops to fight for the British

Hessian Auxiliary Troops[edit | edit source]

Napoleonic Wars, 1805 to 1815[edit | edit source]

  • 1805-1815: Napoleonic Wars. German troops served throughout Europe. Rhineland was temporarily occupied by France.

Second Schleswig War, 1864[edit | edit source]

  • 1864: War with Denmark. Prussia seized Schleswig-Holstein.

Seven Weeks War, 1866[edit | edit source]

  • 1866: Seven Weeks War. Preußen consolidated power in a fight with Austria. In 1867, after the war the Army Reorganized. Prussia absorbed the armies of all other states except Bavaria, Saxony, and Württemberg.

Franco-Prussian War, 1870 to 1871[edit | edit source]

1870-1871: Franco-Prussian War. Germany annexed Alsace-Lorrraine (Elsaß-Lothringen).

Casualties[edit | edit source]

World War I, 1914 to 1918[edit | edit source]

1914-1918: World War I. Alsace-Lorrraine (Elsaß-Lothringen) returned to France. Parts of eastern Germany ceded to Lithuania and Poland.

Service Records[edit | edit source]

Casualty Records[edit | edit source]

Prisoners of War[edit | edit source]

Cemetery Records[edit | edit source]

World War II, 1939 to 1945[edit | edit source]

1939-1945: World War II. Many German records were destroyed.

Prisoner of War Records[edit | edit source]

Cemetery Records[edit | edit source]

Deaths of German Citizens Abroad[edit | edit source]

Additional Resources[edit | edit source]

For more historical information about the German military, see the following sources:

  • Alfoldi, Laszlo M. The Armies of Austria-Hungary and Germany, 1740-1914. Pennsylvania, USA: Carlisle Barracks, 1975. (FHL book 943 A3a v. 1, film 1,045,372 item 3.)
  • Sigel, Gustav A. German Military Forces of the 19th Century. New York, NY, USA: Crown Publishing, 1989. (Not at FHL.)